Factors Influencing Student Motivation

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

What factors influence student motivation? In this lesson, learn about some of the main elements that determine whether or not a 1st through 6th grade student remains dedicated. Updated: 07/29/2020

Motivated or Not?

New Zealand climber Sir Edmund Hillary once said ''I think it all comes down to motivation. If you really want to do something, you will work hard for it.''

However, while most students will never climb Mount Everest, they face mountains of obstacles as they struggle to maintain motivation each day. What are some of these factors, and what motivational strategies can you employ to inspire them?

Middle childhood generally refers to those students between six and twelve years of age. If you are an educator taking a middle childhood teaching examination, then read on to learn some helpful relevant information.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

Two major types of motivation are:

  1. Extrinsic motivation, which occurs when a student performs a task to reap a reward, or alternatively to avoid a punishment.
  2. Intrinsic motivation, which takes place when a student performs a task to achieve feelings of self-satisfaction in a job well done.


Say Jamal is an educator, and as of right now his students are sitting in the classroom staring at the board. The first thing they need is a positive attitude that they are capable of learning new things.

A fixed mindset is when a student believes they are ''stuck'' with their abilities, skills, and talents. If a student thinks they can't improve, they may think learning is hopeless and quit trying anymore.

Jamal is aiming for a growth mindset, or when a student believes disciplined practice and studies will eventually yield improvements. A student who believes they can improve probably will.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs of 1954 is a famous theory on human motivation featuring a pyramid with physiological needs at the base, then safety needs above that, followed by social needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization at the top.

How does this theory apply to motivating students? Let's start at the bottom of the pyramid.

  • Physiological needs

Just imagine if Jenna wasn't having her physiological needs met. These include air, food, shelter, sleep, and water. She probably isn't too motivated to study, nor even have the energy. She spends the classroom time daydreaming about these five needs. (Just how much sleep is enough is a controversial topic, and related is the debate as to whether schools should start later in the morning).

  • Safety needs

If those five needs are met, the next step up on the pyramid is safety concerns. If the student has an abusive home life or is being bullied at school, their motivation may plummet.

  • Social needs

The next and middle step of the pyramid is the social needs, or love and belonging stage. If a student doesn't feel appreciated or part of a group, they may become isolated and detached, or even turn to alcohol or substance abuse instead.

  • Esteem

Next is the esteem stage. If the student does not feel self-confident and get positive feedback from educators and other students, they may give up on studying when encountering difficult material.

  • Self-actualization

The final and top stage is the self-actualization stage. If the student does not meet the criteria of the bottom four stages, it is highly unlikely they will ever reach their utmost potential in their educational pursuits.


In 1983, American educational psychologist John M. Keller developed the ARCS Model of Motivation, which stands for attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction.

  • Attention - Jamal need to keep the students engaged through methods that include humor, real world examples, and active participation.
  • Relevance - Jamal should link present information to past knowledge and future functionality.
  • Confidence - Jamal needs to promote self-assurance in students to keep them interested.
  • Satisfaction - Jamal can give incentives such as rewards and/or praise to the students, and show them how to immediately apply their newfound knowledge.

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